A few years ago at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon a couple of runners came on course at about the 5 km mark. I figured they were resuming the course after taking a bathroom break. Another runner beside me though was not so convinced and started calling them out as cheats.
Earlier this year I was told that the Run Disney events have a strongly participatory nature. By that I mean, so long as you cross the start line, you get a medal. Indeed one woman proudly flaunted this fact by stepping across the start and then drove off to triumphantly collect her medal. I’m sure for her and many of her friends and family the story will be recounted jovially and received with hardy guffaws if not sincere congratulations. I however would be outraged.
Among the running community I’ve found that the honour code is a very strong and constant presence. We are very much self-regulating. And our pride over our accomplishments is genuine because of the fact that we earned every one of our accomplishments by training hard and finishing our races. I could qualify for the Boston Marathon tomorrow by having a faster friend race on my behalf. But would I? Not a chance. I wouldn’t feel right. And my self-perception would never be the same again. It would taint all of my running accomplishments before and after such a betrayal of the runners’ ethic.
But what if the runner unknowingly cheats?
Last Saturday at A Midsummer Night’s Run, the competition was marred for many by — among other things — unclear race marshaling. In fact the race has been recently christened A Midsummer Nightmare because of the many calamities that befell its participants. For me I was almost rerouted in such a way that would have had me finishing the 30 km race in about 26 km. Thankfully due to some repeated questioning on my part as to which turn I was to make I got put on the right track and completed my race in full. But I’m sure others weren’t so fortunate. Honestly, if it were me whom a race marshal misguided I would’ve ran another 4 km just for my own peace of mind.
In the 5 km event, a friend and many others who competed were similarly misguided or not guided at all. Consequently it would appear from the results as well as the many Garmin reports that aside from the top 2 finishers, everyone in the 5km event ran at least a full kilometre more than they were supposed to. In this case the runners didn’t cheat the course, it was the runners themselves who were cheated.
There is a trust and expectation among the running community. We trust that when we are told a race course is going to be a certain distance that that will indeed be the distance we race. We expect that there will be race marshals present. And we expect that they will do their job. In return you can trust the overwhelming majority of runners that when he or she says they completed a race of a certain distance that he or she did just that.
It’s one of the things that make me most proud of being a runner and most proud of other runners — we’re honest people who work hard and love our sport. We take pride in what we do and we smile knowingly at our fellow runners because we realize and respect all that they are doing to keep fit and to keep running.